Here is the Reader’s Digest version of how to create social media engagement.
Each step is a word:
Listen • Integrate • Share • Talk • Enable Talk • Nurture • Evaluate • Refine
If you have paid close attention, you’ve probably discovered that the first letters of each word put together spell LISTENER. Makes it easy to remember, right? It all starts and ends with listening!
If you don’t do anything else, just listen. If you’re new to social media, listen first, engage next. If you’ve been doing social for a while, keep listening. Always! Not just during your launch period or around your event. Listening can help you get an outside perspective on your company.
It can help you gain real-time, unfiltered feedback, uncover issues, pain points and new opportunities. It can also be used to gain an edge on your competition, and can even help you avoid or minimize a crisis situation. Hint: If you have a typical Monday-through-Friday schedule, avoid announcing a product on a Friday. Even though your by-then-exhausted launch team will likely be ready to turn in early, social media never sleeps. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll never face a crisis over the weekend, it’s better not to tempt the hand of fate.
This is the foundation of the engagement planning process. Continuing our journey, let’s take listening as an example to show the power of integration. What good does listening do if you put your data in a monthly report and move on to the next thing?
Evaluate and connect the data points you have collected, draw insights from them, make your findings a part of your overall action plan and create a workflow to help ensure that the proper actions are taken.
In order to be successful, integration needs to happen on every level. I often say “social media should not be done in a vacuum.” On a high level:
- Your business objectives should drive your social objectives. Your social objectives should drive the destinations and tactics of your engagement. This approach is fundamentally different from leading the conversation or pushing out content with the tools or platforms you have.
- Your social objectives should consider the non-social aspects of your business goals. For example, how do owned, paid and earned media play together?
- Your business objectives should drive your social metrics. Gaining new followers or fans is a means to an end. What’s the “end state” you’re trying to influence? Is it to help change behavior? Is it to drive participation in something? Etc.
Now we’re getting into the details of engagement tactics. In simplistic terms, the act of engagement can be categorized into three buckets. Bucket #1 is sharing. The simplest thing a practitioner can do. Information, event invitations, launch details, special promotions, third-party testimonials, opinions, technical documentation and the list goes on. There’s nothing wrong with sharing. But there are several things you can do to make this process more, well, social. Offer insights, little-known facts and behind-the-scene details; promote others instead of pushing your stuff all the time (or most of the time); weave in industry or everyday topics; mix up your content with images, slides and videos; ask people to share your update with their friends and add a clear call to action to your post. And, most important, ask yourself: “Would I click on this if somebody sent it to me?” If not, maybe play around with the wording to see if you can come up with something punchier.
One step above sharing is bucket #2: talking. Sharing feels more like “talking at” while talking feels more like “talking to” your audience. It refers to real conversations. Your goal shouldn’t be to control the conversation, but you can learn how to guide it effectively. First and foremost, you need to provide an environment to your fans and followers in which they can engage with you. By environment, I don’t only mean an online and/or physical gathering place but also a philosophy that fosters interactions. As the community manager, you can initiate audience participation by asking questions or asking for opinions, using polls and quizzes, creating interactive events and more. Or you can (actually you should) respond to people’s questions and encourage them to continue the dialogue by asking a follow-up question. You can contribute to others’ conversations, and so on. Hint: It is possible that you may not know the answer to a question. If that happens, at a minimum you should acknowledge the question and do your best to try to connect the inquirer with the person who has the answer. Even if the answer is not what your fan or follower may want to hear, don’t leave them hanging. Be a savvy communicator and know when to move an online conversation offline and vice versa. Not everything that starts online needs to stay online, and there’s an opportunity to share key takeaways from some offline conversations on the social Web.
The Bugatti Veyron (I admit, I had to look this up) of engagement. What do I mean by that? The Bugatti Veyron Super Sports car is the most expensive car in the world today. It’s something people aspire to have but not many have it. That’s how enabling talk works, too.
“Talk” describes the phase in which conversations flow from marketers to customers and from customers to marketers. But dialogue can occur among your fans and followers, too. Not just occasionally but regularly. Many practitioners aspire to reach and maintain this state on their communities but realize it’s hard to attain. Several factors can contribute to this, such as limiting fan engagement opportunities on your community, competitive considerations within your fan base, lack of or limited intriguing content, ad-hoc community management, lack of or ineffective calls to action, and more. But time, persistence and understanding your audience can help you get there.
From a social manager’s perspective, enabling dialogue among your fans can have several benefits:
- Community management: Your fans and followers can help scale your social media efforts by sharing (formally or informally) the workload of community management with you.
- Advocacy: It can help you identify advocates for your company.
- Market pulse: It can help you gain insights into your customers and industry in a less formal and more unaided fashion, and could help uncover things you may not have considered previously.
The three levels of engagement I just described essentially are ways to nurture your customers and partners. But I wanted to make nurturing a separate point because of the time, effort and commitment it takes to see its benefits. The more value you can create for your audience on an on-going basis and the more positive experiences you can provide them with (on- and offline!), the higher your chances will be for retaining customers and creating loyalty.
In fact, according to a MarketingProfs.com article citing SPSS’ 2010 B-to-B Customer Engagement survey, b-to-b companies are very interested in creating value for their customers. Seventy-two percent of the interviewees noted that customer retention and loyalty are their primary drivers for customer engagement. Retention and loyalty are based on trust, which is the outcome of a series of positive experiences with the brand (unless a buyer has no other choice, which is a very rare scenario in a free market economy). Satisfying clients with better products and services came in at 54%, and enhancing customer experience came in third at 41%.
The process of evaluation consists of measurement and analysis. When you set your objective in the planning phase, you also set your key performance indicators, or KPIs, to help you stay focused and accountable. As you evaluate your engagement, make sure you connect the dots across the board:
- Use your qualitative data to understand the quantitative impact and to uncover the reasons behind your spikes and dips.
- Look for feedback beyond the channels you own or manage and gather insights from third parties.
- Connect short-term and long-term results to understand trends and cause-and-effect relationships.
You may have the best measurement tools and KPIs in place, but your efforts will be sub-optimized if you don’t know how to interpret the results and turn this information into actionable insights. The SPSS research I referenced earlier found that b-to-b marketers are better at capturing customer information than analyzing it. This study reveals that while 40% of interviewees use social media for collecting customer information, only 43% “rate their ability to use customer analytics to identity ‘best customer’ targets as good or excellent, and only 29% rate their ability to use analytics to maximize revenue per customer as good or excellent.”
I think you already know what comes next … if you have the information you can act upon but don’t do anything with it. It’s like knowing you are sick but never making an appointment with the doctor or resting in bed for a few days. The key is to do something with the analysis to help improve the situation.
Social media is a lot like life: It’s an on-going learning process. Each experience helps you grow. So look at each piece of information as an opportunity to learn. Learn what’s working, learn from your mistakes, learn from your customers and make improvements. Keep up with the changes in social media and always look for opportunities to grow your social practice. Refine your strategy as you listen, integrate, share, talk, enable talk, nurture and evaluate.
Let each cycle help you reach the next level of your practice!